Best Time of Day for Horse Photography

Time of day is important for photographs

The word Photography is derived from Greek words and literally means ‘drawing with light’.

Without light, a photograph can’t be created at all, but the quality of the light is also vital to the quality of the finished photograph.  This is particularly important with natural light sessions as the sun is only light source and the quality of the light changes throughout the day and also through the seasons.

Portable studio lighting equipment has opened up a whole new world for my work and also removed obstacles that have previously dictated the time of day I can do sessions.

Best time of day for natural night horse photography

The absolute best time of day for natural light photographs at any time of year is when the sun is lower on the horizon in the last hour or so before sunset or after sunrise. 

The beautiful soft light at this time of day is preferred by photographers, we call this special time of day ‘the golden hour’.  When the sun is low on the horizon, the shadows it casts are softer and much more flattering to both horses and people than the harsh, dark shadows cast at other times of the day.  When the sun is low, we are able to look towards it without squinting and everything is bathed with a warm golden light that is perfect for beautiful photographs.

Elegant Chestnut Horse and Girl wearing formal Ball gown by Bunbury horse photographer Michelle Wrighton Photography
Bay warmblood horse photograph


While it is possible to take natural light photos at other times of the day, it has to be done with care and typically limits the variety of photos that can be created in a session. 

For liberty or ridden photos, the sun needs to be directly behind the photographer to avoid harsh ugly shadows on the horse and rider.  This is not always possible to do in all locations due to buildings or other backgrounds that are less than ideal.  


Photograph of a blonde girl and a black horse by professional horse photographer Michelle Wrighton

Portrait photos can also be taken in open shade, such as at the edge of the shadow of a large tree, or the shade cast by a building.  The sun can also be used as a back light behind the subjects, which creates a lovely halo effect, particularly behind hair and fur.  Depending how harsh the sunlight is and how light the hair is, this back light can be overpowering and loose all detail in the hair as well as the background environment.

If it is overcast with a blanket of cloud that is actually perfect for photography as the sunlight is softened making it flattering for photographs at any time of the day.

Natural light black background portraits can also be created throughout the day if using a stable, shed or breezeway opening that isn’t directly facing into the sun.

Natural light black background horse photography

Portable Studio Lighting for horse photography

Powerful studio lighting overcomes many of the limitations of natural light photography as it allows me to create the lighting that I need in any given situation.    

I prefer to give my clients a good variety of photographs from their session to choose their artwork from, so for outdoor sessions I do still recommend early morning or late afternoon as the best time so that we can incorporate natural light options as well as  specialised lighting equipment to create outdoor photographs with a stunning sunset if we are lucky enough to get one.  

Bay thoroughbred horse and sunset photograph

At the very end of the day, after the sun has sunk below the horizon and while there is still light and colour in the sky is the ‘blue hour’.  Although it often dosn’t last as long as an hour, it is possible to get very dramatic  photographs like these.

Outdoor studio lighting photograph of a chestnut horse 

Blue hour dramatic outdoor studio light horse photograph


However if you know you specifically want black or white background studio lit photographs, then we can schedule these at any time of day.

Studio Lighting Horse Photography
Black background studio lighting chestnut thoroughbred horse photograph

Interested in booking a photography session for your horse?  Book an obligation free phone call to discuss your ideas and start planning your custom horse photography session.

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